Horse Breeding

The Story of Joe Hancock

March 30, 2012

One of the greatest quarter-mile horses in all history had a typically American “rags to riches” career.

Joe Hancock

AQHA Hall of Fame horse Joe Hancock. Quarter Horse Magazine photo.

From Quarter Horse Magazine

Out on a Panhandle prairie in the late summer of 1923, a middle-aged horseman stood talking to his son, who had come to visit him. This man had bred some great Quarter Horses, and he owned John Wilkens, one of the truly great sons of Peter McCue. The man’s name was Walter Hancock.

“See that doggie colt out there,” he told his son. “I’m tired of looking at him. Figure out some way to load him up and take him away from here.”

They went next day, the doggie colt in a “wagon” trailer (they all were in the early ’20s) and the son, secretly proud of a chance to “make a horse.” He was a horseman, too, and while he knew that this doggie was out of a Texas range mare of average breeding, he was by John Wilkens, and all the world knew that this son of Peter McCue had phenomenal early speed. John Wilkens was one of those tragedies of the horse world – a horse as truly great a speedster as his sire, but doomed to obscurity because of small, soft feet.

The doggie colt went down in the Henrietta country, and Walter Hancock’s son grew him into a horse of tremendous stature.

He was so big of limb and so strong as to almost be a freak. One had to remember, as they looked at him, that his sire was John Wilkens, a great quarter running horse, and that his grandsire was Peter McCue, greatest dash horse of all time.

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But young Hancock never forgot it, and in the summer of 1925, he saddled the colt and set out for Oklahoma, which was not far away. He had been working out the colt and knew he wanted more expertness hold of him. He had been writing George Ogles, one of Oklahoma’s finest trainers and notably good at lap and tap racing. Let Ogles take up the story, as told to Lige Reed of Iowa Park.

“This Hancock kid never let up on me about having a sprint horse, and naturally, I paid no attention to him. Finally, to make him quit writing, I told him I’d try the colt out on a basis of feed bills paid in advance. He came right on up with him, and I never saw a more ragged horse. He left him, and the next morning, I decided to break him off. Before I could do it, I had to burr him, and just to look at his feet was enough. I never even picked up the nippers – he had the biggest, roughest, hardest feet I ever saw on a horse. I just took a pole axe and trimmed them like you would a dry mesquite stump.

“Then we took them out, and as I was working a good, fast horse for an early race date, I decided to break the colt away at him. Hancock had him gentle enough, and pretty well-mannered, so I rode him and let my son ride my own racing horse. We went a quarter, and the Hancock colt beat my horse plumb easy.

“ ‘What did you hold my horse in for?’ I asked my son, when we pulled up. ‘I didn’t pa,’ he answered. ‘I spanked him every jump.’

“I was far from sure, so we walked them out, and blew them about an hour, and then I took out my own horse, and put my son on the Hancock colt. All that colt did was daylight me that quarter.

“I was simply knocked over. I couldn’t believe it had happened, but I knew my brother was training an awful good horse and had him fully ready. I asked him to come over and take a fall at the Hancock colt.

“He came right on, and we decided to really blow them out. We put two light boys up, and Hancock won going away.

“That settled it. ‘Boys,’ I said, ‘Joe Hancock is going to work, and he’s going to shake Oklahoma to the roots.’ ”

That describes exactly what happened. Right there on that training track, a great tradition was born – that for a quarter mile, you could not outrun Joe Hancock, and for greater distances, he would outrun you so far early in the race you could not overhaul him with a good distance horse. George Ogles stated flatly to Lige Reed that while he raced him – and he was the only man who ever race him – he was unbeaten at any distance. There is only one contradiction. There is a statement made by one man that he rode the Mountain mare against Joe Hancock in a half-mile race and beat him. No one ever claimed to have beaten him at a quarter mile or under. Repeated instances are claimed that Joe Hancock broke 22 seconds for a quarter mile from a flying start. He ran on Oklahoma and North Texas tracks for nearly five years and beat so many good horses he could not be matched or entered, so Ogles decided to sell him (he had purchased him by prior agreement from Hancock) for retirement to stud service.

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This was done in late 1931, and the final chapter of this great Quarter Horse’s life proved as noteworthy as the first. He was always in good hands and became a great Quarter Horse sire and showed such great prepotency that even before the resurgency of Quarter Horse activity in the Southwest, he was lifting the level of ranch and roping and running performance horses single handedly. He was used extensively, on all types of mares, and like his prepotent grandsire, Peter McCue, could bring you a Quarter Horse from all types. His get had every quality. They could work cattle superbly, perform in the rodeo arena and run. They had the build, stamina and intelligence of true Quarter Horses.

Joe Hancock died in 1944 but his sire line proved in his sons. They, too, produced great Quarter Horses, and his grandsons followed the family’s greatness. Among notable sires in his group of sons are Joe Tom, Red Man, Roan Hancock, Joe Hancock’s Steeldust and King County Joe. There are others, of course, and other generations continue to do well in the show ring, on the ranch and on the track.

Joe Hancock was inducted into the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame in 1992.